The Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA) places new expectations and requirements on practices and their implementation of patient portal systems. The goal of MACRA is to improve the quality of health care for Medicare patients, and this is accomplished by shifting the payment system from fee-for-service to care focused on results and value. MACRA financially motivates practices to engage patients in patient portal use in hopes that it will improve efficiency and overall population health. Although most practices agree this is a worthwhile endeavor, the process of getting patients to sign up and use the portal can be cumbersome and comes with many challenges.
It is not as simple as getting your patients signed up with portal accounts. It is important that you also get them to engage in the content you are sharing with them before and after their visit. To do this, you must change how patients interact with your office and help them navigate this new system of accessing their medical information.
Patient portals can save a practice a lot of time, but you will need to invest time and effort upfront to get your patients engaged and actively using the portal to do things such as schedule appointments and view lab results. The following strategies will help you engage your patients to use the portal.
1. Mass enrollment
If you have trouble getting patients to sign up, pull the email addresses for any patients who have not enrolled in your patient portal and then upload them into the system (you will need to verify your patient portal has a bulk upload feature). Next, send a series of emails to the patients encouraging them to pick a username and password. When you automatically enroll patients, some portals allow you to create temporary user names and passwords for your patients. If that is an option, it may simplify the process for the patient – and fast track your patient portal on-boarding experience. As patients start to use the portal, continue tracking those who have not yet engaged with the email by sending a series of friendly reminders about the functionality and benefits of the portal. It can be helpful to send clips of short instructional videos on how to best use the portal where patients can see the practical application.
2. Get the whole office involved
Your staff is key to a successful rollout and obtaining a high-level of patient engagement with the portal. A recent study published in the Annals of Family Medicine found patient use soared when the entire office staff, not just the clinician, engaged in notifying patients about the portal. Since patients tend to spend more time with the nurses, medical assistants, and receptionists than they do with the physicians in practices, patients may place value in their encouragement to use the portal technology.
When preparing your staff to promote the portal, make sure they have seen it, know its features, and have the vocabulary to share this information with patients.
Take every interaction with a patient as an opportunity to remind them of the functionality and availability of the portal. If a patient calls into the office to schedule an appointment, inform them that appointments can be scheduled and confirmed through the portal. To speed up a patient’s visit to the office, let them know of any questionnaires or medical history forms they can fill out on the portal ahead of time. When a patient checks out, be sure to remind them that bills are payable through the portal as well. When finishing up with a patient, the clinician should let the patient know that they will be able to view notes on today’s appointment and any imaging or lab results in the portal as well.
3. Use every patient handout or marketing collateral as an opportunity to promote the patient portal
Another tactic is to promote the portal on any paperwork or handouts you give to patients. A couple of areas to consider are at the bottom of patient statements or bills, patient education materials, on marketing resources, and on the practice website. Make sure the website displays a clearly defined link and instructions around setting up the portal from the patient perspective.
When you are handing out any collateral materials to new patients, be sure to highlight why using the portal will benefit them. Educate your patients at every opportunity you get.
4. Market the benefits, not the features
A feature-focused conversation may be highlighting things like secure messaging and appointment scheduling. Let’s flip the conversation to focus on the benefits. Instead of secure messaging being the main idea you communicate to the patients, talk about being able to directly communicate with the provider at any hour. If you prefer to speed up the appointment scheduling process or make appointments with the office outside of business hours, the patient portal provides a great option for appointment scheduling in a way that may be more convenient for your patients. Framing the conversation in a way that brings into mind the benefits of using the portal will encourage patients to sign up for and use the portal.
Many patient portals have additional features that can be enabled, and it is imperative to continue highlighting the benefits to the patients when the practice rolls out these new functions. New features and benefits may interest patients who were originally indifferent or found the portal to be lacking functionality.
5. Older patients may surprise you
Just because your patients are older does not mean they are incapable of using the patient portal technology. The study published in the Annals of Family Medicine found that older patients and patients with chronic conditions were more likely to create a patient portal account, and many of these elderly patients often experience chronic conditions. The patient portal has become a fantastic tool for managing chronic conditions. Since these patients have more appointments to schedule and more lab results to view, the portal can ease these processes and keep them well-informed on their health. While they may take more time to learn the technology, elderly patients are often some of your most engaged patients, so continue to encourage portal use among these older patients as well as your younger demographic.
6. Customize the content of your portal for your patients
Try to think from the patient’s perspective. Having valuable information shared with you from your provider will make using the portal more worthwhile. With the right content, remembering one more set of logins and passwords does not seem so taxing. Patients should have easy access to the most relevant content. Think about what matters to your patient population and incorporate it as a feature into your portal.
7. Consider an incentive
An incentive can motivate patients to sign up for and engage with the portal. To encourage use, patients who sign up for the portal within a certain time frame could be entered in a drawing to win a prize or a small discount on a bill for the first one they pay through the portal. If more patients make use of the portal to schedule appointments, pay bills, and receive test results, this can reduce check out times and time spent making phone calls – the small price of your incentive will quickly be paid back in saved time for your office staff and improved patient satisfaction.
8. Continuously promote the use of your patient portal
It is crucial that you continue to remind patients of the portal as an option in their health care experience. This can look different depending on the percentage of your patients that use the portal at your practice. If you are starting from scratch, you may have a long journey ahead – to aid you in starting off strong, deliberate mail and email marketing of the portal may make sense. If your population is signing up, but not actively using the portal, having your front desk staff or your physician(s) mention the portal verbally at their visits may boost engagement.
Another option is to partner with a company or organization that has expertise in patient engagement to help generate new ways to ensure your patients are aware of and interacting with the portal. At Medical Advantage, our EHR consultants have helped many organizations roll out the patient portal and enhance functionality to fit patient needs. Get in touch with us today to learn how our EHR Consultants can help you improve your patient engagement!
Looking for more ways to boost patient engagement? View our patient engagement article here.